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Friday focus: Personal finance

Wal-Mart, in a move aimed at Americans living paycheck to paycheck, has announced it’s slashing fees on its MoneyCard, a prepaid, reloadable Visa debit card.

Requiring no credit check or existing bank account to open, the card can be loaded in any amount up to $3,000 a month, usable anywhere that accepts Visa debit cards. When the amount is gone, there are no overdraft or late fees.

Wal-Mart is repricing all basic fees at $3: initial activation, monthly service and reloading charge. Previously, those MoneyCard charges were $9, $4.95 and $4.65. For those who use direct deposit and minimum amounts, the $3 monthly and reloading fees are dropped entirely.

“We thought originally it was (mainly) for ‘unbanked’ customers, but we’re finding a new set of customers who are using it to get their finances in order,” said Jane Thompson, president of Wal-Mart Financial Services.

Curtis Arnold, founder of, a Little Rock, Ark.-based credit card comparison site, gave Wal-Mart’s announcement a thumbs-up. “For a company that prides itself on being a price leader, they weren’t prior to these changes. Now, they are.”

Meanwhile, officials of the third annual America Saves Week hope it will pick up even more savings converts, especially given the economy’s turbulence.

“It’s an annual chance to look at your spending and saving – identify a goal and a time frame to reach it,” said Nancy Register, director of the nonprofit America Saves project in Washington, D.C. “The whole idea is to take action and get into a savings habit. Even if it’s only a small amount, it’s transformative.”

Time to save: Banks, investment brokers and credit unions are rolling out new saving incentives.

Charles Schwab, the discount investment brokerage, has debuted a new high-yield savings account with a 2 percent annual interest rate and no monthly service charges, ATM fees or minimum balance.

“You can’t control what the markets are doing, but you can do something about your own current situation,” said Kevin Rose, a Charles Schwab branch manager in Roseville, Calif.

“… If you have savings set aside in a separate account that’s not (mingled) with your everyday checking account, you can see it grow.”



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